Travel Guide for Sacsayhuaman in Peru

Welcome to your “Travel Guide for Sacsayhuaman in Peru!”  The first time I ever heard this unusual word was actually in Portland, Oregon ~ at my favorite Peruvian restaurant: Andina’s.  One of their most popular drinks, it turns out, is named after a significant Peruvian archaeological site, located just above Cusco.  Over the course of my travels in Peru, I spent the most time in Cusco; I truly fell in love with this city.  And Sacsayhuaman is one of my favorite spots in the city: for its incredible views & remarkable history. 

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One of the first places my friend Tasha & I visited upon arriving in Cusco: Sacsayhuaman. If you plan to take photos with the traditionally-dressed ladies at the site: bring cash to tip them.

Sacsayhuaman is like Cusco’s very own version of Machu Picchu….but far more approachable.

The easiest way to pronounce Sacsayhuaman (as a gringo) is like this: “Sexy Woman.” It can also be spelled “Saqsaywaman,” & translates to: the place where the hawk is satisfied.

 

Another translation of the word is puma, & some say this animal guards over Cusco.

Quick Facts about Sacsayhuaman

  • Opening Times: Monday-Sunday, 7AM-6PM.
  • Entrance Price: 70 to 130 soles ($4-8 US), depending if you buy the full “Tourist Ticket” or not ~ which lets you into other archaeological sites around Cusco.
  • Elevation at Sacsayhuaman: 12,142 feet (3,701 meters) = VERY HIGH!! Bring sunscreen: if you’re up here for several hours, you can get a terrible sunburn…there’s very little shade.
  • How to Get to Sacsayhuaman: Walk up from Plaza de Armas in Cusco (about 30-40 minutes), take a taxi, or take a group tour.
  • What to Do at Sacsayhuaman: Take photos of the site and/or of the many grazing alpacas & colorfully-dressed ladies; go horseback riding; take a guided-tour of the site to learn its history; jog, play soccer, or use the huge main plaza for whatever sport you can dream up; on Peruvian holidays, take in special ceremonies that may take place here; watch the sunset ~ it’s one of the best places in Cusco to see the sun fade into the Andes.
  • What to Bring: Cash, sunscreen, a hat, layers of clothing (weather is highly variable here), a picnic lunch & drinks if you plan to stay awhile, a good camera, sporting gear, & a towel or blanket (if you plan to picnic). It’s also worth bringing Altitude RX pills to Cusco, to help keep altitude sickness at bay.
  • Is Sacsayhuaman Worth Visiting? YES. Between the history, views, & the fact that there’s so much to do here ~ Sacsayhuaman is 100% a must-visit while in Cusco. During my time there, I visited at least five times: it’s a place that pulls you back.
  • Did You Feel Safe at Sacsayhuaman? YES. I visited twice with friends, once on a group tour (my least favorite way of visiting the site), once with my Spanish class on a horseback ride (AMAZING), & a couple other times I just walked up on my own with a book. The great thing about the site is, there are always so many people there ~ both locals & tourists, that you never feel alone; it’s a wide-open, very welcoming space. But it’s also SO big that it never feels crazy-crowded…it’s definitely not like Disneyland!
  • Where Did You Stay in Cusco: Since I was in Cusco for over a month, I stayed in everything from amazing little hostels to five-star hotels like the phenomenal JW Marriott El Convento (set in an old convent) & Palacio del Inka.

History & Photos of Sacsayhuaman

Sacsayhuaman is one of those places where, the more you know its history: the more fascinating your visit will be.  Built in the 1400’s under the guidance of famous Inca ruler Pachacuti: it took over 50 years & more than 20,000 men to build what many suspect was either a fortress, ceremonial center, or both.  The workers moved rocks (many of which you’ll see are absolutely enormous) using a vast system of ropes, logs, & levers.  When you see the site in person, you may wonder how in the world this is even possible.

After the Spanish came & conquered the city around the mid-1500’s, they removed as much of Sacsayhuaman’s structure as they could plunder: including over 700 plates of gold that adorned the site’s Temple of the Sun.  Much of modern-day Cusco is built with the stone that was taken by the Spaniards.  Only the largest stones remain behind, as the new rulers were unable to move them.

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Here I’m standing at the base of Sacsayhuaman’s Jesus Christo statue, where our Spanish teacher gave us a history of the site.

Travel Guide for Sacsayhuaman in Peru, Girl Who Travels the World

If you decide to walk from Cusco to Sacsayhuaman: you’ll need to walk up these daunting stairs…at an elevation of 12,000 feet. It takes about 30 minutes…& that’s my friend Nina making the arduous trek.

Walking Directions to Sacsayhuaman: Start at the Plaza de Armas in Cusco.  From there, take Huaynapata St. west, then turn right onto Resbalosa. Follow the road up, then turn right after San Cristobal Church & follow the highway. Finally, you will join the old Inca road to Sacsayhuaman. 

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When you get to the top: an alpaca may greet you.

GWTW Tip: Don’t attempt the hike up to Sacsayhuaman on your first day in town ~ the elevation will kick your BUTT. Unless you’re acclimated, take a taxi or group tour up to the site.

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This shot reminds me of “The Sound of Music….” set in Cusco.

Travel Guide for Sacsayhuaman in Peru, Girl Who Travels the World

My friend Tasha with her new friend, a baby alpaca.

Travel Guide for Sacsayhuaman in Peru, Girl Who Travels the World

If you start to climb up some of the ruins, you’ll be rewarded with amazing views of the site itself & the city below.

“On top of a hill, the Inca had a very strong fort surrounded with masonry walls of stone & two very high round towers. In the lower part of this wall were stones so large & thick that it seemed impossible human hands could have set them in place…they were so close together, & so well-fitted…the point of a pin could not have been inserted in one of the joints. The whole fortress was built up in terraces & flat spaces.”

 

– From Account of Pedro Pizarro, a Spanish Conqustadore & Chronicler

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Our Spanish teacher took us on a 3-hour horseback ride above Sacsayhuaman that was sensational. But I will repeat: the elevation here is 12,000 feet. BRING SUNSCREEN!!! Otherwise you’re in for a crazy sunburn.

More Photos of Sacsayhuaman

I took more photos of Saqsaywaman then any other place in Cusco: it’s incredibly photogenic.  Of the hundreds I took, the photos in this article are just some of my favorites…

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The Jesus Christo statue is one Saqsaywaman’s most iconic features; this shot shows how many stairs are involved in walking the site.

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A beautiful Peruvian woman with her alpaca, at the top of Sacsayhuaman.

GWTW Tip: If you plan to take a photo of or with any of the women at Sacsayhuaman, bring cash to tip them. This is a source of income for them, & it’s often their own alpacas they bring to the site each day.

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Certain angles of the site make you feel as though you’re stepping back in time….& that around the corner you may encounter encroaching Spanish Conquistadores.

How to Get to Sacsayhuaman by Cusco, Girl Who Travels the World

On the route up to Jesus Christo, with the ruins spread out behind me…

How to Get to Sacsayhuaman by Cusco, Girl Who Travels the World

Beautiful views.

Did You Know? After the Spanish conquered Sacsayhuaman, they covered whatever remained at the site with dirt ~ & the site remained “hidden” until 1934, when it was re-discovered by historical excavations.

 

This was over 20 years after Hiram Bingham “discovered” the ruins at Machu Picchu, with the help of locals.

Sunset Views at Saqsaywaman, Girl Who Travels the World

Sunday afternoons are a great time to visit Saqsaywaman: it’s mainly locals having picnics & playing soccer; there are very few tourists then.

Travel Guide for Sacsayhuaman in Peru

That concludes this article on beautiful Sacsayhuaman.  For more articles on Peru: read about the trek to Rainbow Mountain, or my favorite hotels in Cusco.  This is a country you can easily get side-tracked in & stay awhile…

xoxo Noelia 

Read Next: Why Cusco is One of My Favorite Cities in the World

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